Man dies in West Baltimore blaze

Four are injured when rowhouse burns

February 16, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A 76-year-old man apparently pushed his friend out a second-story window of a burning West Baltimore rowhouse early yesterday and then collapsed and died, fire officials and a witness said.

The woman fell onto a porch roof, injuring her knee, and was treated at a downtown hospital and released.

James Lee, a retired construction worker who had moved into the house in 1991, was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy is planned.

"He got the lady out, but he didn't make it out," said Richard England, 70, who lived on the third floor and escaped down a rear fire escape of the rowhouse in the 1300 block of Edmondson Ave.

"I don't know what I'm going to do now," said England, as he watched firefighters from across the street, wrapped in a blanket and standing in bedroom slippers. "I grabbed my robe, and that's it. Everything I own went up in flames."

Four people, all adults, were injured in the two-alarm fire that was first reported by a passing police officer just before 8 a.m. The fire spread to a rowhouse next door and forced the evacuation of another six to eight people.

Officer Shawn Johnson said he arrived just after the woman fell 10 feet to the porch over Murphy's Barber Shop. He said he shouted for other residents to go to the back and climb down a fire escape.

"There was no way we could get inside," Johnson said. "There was too much smoke. You could see flames and people were hanging out the windows screaming and hollering. It was unbelievable."

The closest fire station to the burning house, five blocks away on Lafayette Avenue, was closed yesterday as part of the city fire chief's rotating closures to save money.

Inspector Michael Maybin, a Fire Department spokesman, said the closure did not slow rescue efforts. The first call came from the police officer at 7: 58 a.m. Truck 10 arrived at 8 a.m. and Engines 13, 14 and 36 pulled up at 8: 01. Engine 55 arrived at 8: 02. All came from west-side stations.

"We had 90 percent of the box alarm there in three minutes," Maybin said, adding that the national standard for response time is five minutes.

But Capt. Stephan G. Fugate, president of the fire officers' union who has complained that fire officials are gambling with lives by closing stations, said he remains concerned.

"It would appear that the closure was not a factor in this particular situation," he said yesterday. "But once again, we've dodged the bullet."

Neighbors who watched the fire credited police officers with getting people out, and firefighters said smoke alarms saved lives. The building owner, Norman Murphy, said he put the detectors up himself. "I keep that building up," he said.

Fire Capt. John R. Griffith said a detector he found in a second-floor room was blaring when firefighters fought their way up the stairs. "I had to shut it off myself," he said. "It certainly made a difference in getting people out."

The fire was extinguished shortly before 9 a.m. Investigators said it appeared the fire started on the second floor, but said they had not discovered a cause yesterday.

A damage estimate also was not available, but officials said the house where the fire started, 1305 Edmondson, would likely be condemned. They said 1303 Edmondson could be repaired.

Pub Date: 2/16/99

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